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Agencies struggle to get aid into south Lebanon

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Beirut, Aug 9: Humanitarian efforts in southern Lebanon stalled for a second successive day today as aid workers tried to reach the area, avoiding artillery and air strikes after Israel banned movement there.

On Sunday, Israeli warplanes destroyed a makeshift bridge over the Litani river, the last main route for aid agencies to reach the port of Tyre and the rest of the south.

Israel also imposed an indefinite ban on movement south of the river, saying its forces might attack moving vehicles that were not approved convoys, on the grounds that they might be taking supplies to Hizbollah guerrillas.

The UN World Food Programme (WFP) has asked Israel since Monday for safe passage to rebuild the crossing and look for a new route to the south but has had no luck in either case.

''We haven't yet found a way through. We were unable to send our reconnaissance vehicles down there today because of the security situation,'' said WFP spokesman Robin Lodge.

''We hope to do it tomorrow if we get security assurances.'' Lodge said the WFP sought clearance for two planeloads of supplies from Jordan and to bring in about 170 tonnes of aid from Syria, but a similar convoy that arrived yesterday had been delayed after Israel destroyed the main highway bridges on the route.

Israel launched an offensive launched against Hizbollah in southern Lebanon after guerrillas seized two Israeli soldiers in a cross-border raid on July 12.

Relief group Mercy Corps said heavy shelling around the southern town of Nabatiyeh had forced them to call off deliveries from Beirut but it planned to stockpile goods closer so it could move in and out of the area at short notice.

''The security situation is so volatile that one minute it is safe and we are getting green lights to come, and then an hour or so later the place is under attack,'' said Cassandra Nelson, senior communications officer for Mercy Corps.

She said aid workers had to switch tactics from sending dry goods south because people had run out of cooking fuel, part of a larger crisis which the Health Ministry said yesterday would force hospitals to close in two or three days.

Medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) said that, although Israel had told people to flee southern Lebanon, seemingly deserted villages still held many who were too poor or too frightened to leave.

''When our teams visit villages, which is becoming very, very difficult in itself, even if they look empty there's always civilians left, 10, 50, or maybe 500 in bigger towns,'' said MSF spokesman Bart Rijs.

He said the agency had been forced to stay put in recent days but was considering moving again soon despite the Israeli imposed curfew.

''We haven't tried to test it yet, but we would like to move out of Tyre again tomorrow,'' he said.

REUTERS

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